In 24 days, R.T. Rybak will leave the Minneapolis mayor's office and take over as executive director of Generation Next, an organization that works to close the achievement gap in education. On a visit to The Daily Circuit, Rybak described the achievement gap in Twin Cities schools as a crisis.
"To me, there is one thing that is the biggest issue in this community, no question," he said. "It's the fact that different kids in our community are learning at different levels, and on some level you can tell where they're going to achieve by where they live, what their income is and, most important, what their race is. And when you think about that — that people have different futures, kids have different futures — then you know you have to do something, and it's a crisis. ... We've got to start acting like it."
Rybak alluded to his own experiences in school, both as a student and as a visiting mayor:
In first grade, and then again in first grade
"I totally agree that if kids aren't ready they shouldn't move forward. When I was in first grade, I remember coming home and calling my dad at work and asking him — I was all excited, and I said — 'My teacher just said that I can go to first grade again. Will you let me do that?' I must have really been conned there. But the reality was that I wasn't succeeding in first grade. And somehow, through a very smart con job, the teacher convinced me that this was a great thing, that I got to have another year with her. But it was a really important thing for me, because it allowed me the ability to mature academically to at least be OK in school. I was never very good at it.
"There's no shame in a kid going to a grade again. The idea should really be to master that. We focus a lot on graduation rates. When you really look at the remediation rates in college, that's the real knockout. ... We have a really good community college system here, but they're spending too much time dealing with basic remedial work. So what's the shame of having a kid spend more time in school?"
In ninth grade, every year, for eight years
"The good news is we have more diverse diversity than other places. We have people from all over the world. We have kids who every day get the biggest lesson you need in a new economy, which is how to cross a cultural barrier. So if we get this right, and we get this much more diverse population really moving forward, we're going to be unstoppable in this area. So it's a challenge and an opportunity. ...
"The issue of expectations, I think, is critical to this. Over the past eight years, I've had a real direct experience because I go to every single ninth grade in the Minneapolis schools. For almost a decade, I've talked to every single ninth-grader. And my message to them is not only that we have expectations, but I tell them they're the most valuable generation we've ever had, because they can cross cultural barriers, and we need that so desperately. ... That's not just me giving a speech. That's because I passionately believe in the fact that we have a generation that's going to move us dramatically forward, because of who they are, not in spite of who they are. We need people who cross cultural barriers, and they do it every day. A kid of color in this community grows up bilingual, culturally, because they're got to figure out how to walk into rooms of people different from them. That's the most important thing that you can get in business these days. What we've got to be able to do is not only say that but believe it, and I believe it in every inch of my body. I've seen it."
His misspent senior year
"One of the things that's really exciting is we're having a lot more high school students take college classes, and some of them are finishing college in three years. And by the way, with the expense of it, not a bad idea. We're blurring the line between college and high school. I don't know about you, but my senior year I had a really good time and I learned almost nothing. I should have been taking college classes at that time and getting the credit. Maybe I could have gotten out earlier, or maybe I could have gotten a more robust education."
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP:
• My next steps
We have talked about this issue for a long, long time, but it is clear to me there is a growing consensus that we have to stop admiring this problem and treat it like the crisis that it surely is.
When the 35W bridge collapsed, we didn't spend years talking about how it fell down, and a couple more thinking about how we would fix it: we raced into the water to save lives and broke down every barrier possible to get it rebuilt as fast as it possibly could.
If we can do this about a piece of infrastructure, then surely we can do that with the future of our next generation. (R.T. Rybak, writing on The Mayor blog)
St. Paul, Mpls. schools are rated low on closing achievement gap
Overall, the study ranked Minneapolis sixth and St. Paul ninth among the studied districts on academic and autonomy measures. But they were last and third from the last, respectively, for their achievement gaps. Minneapolis ranked last for its 2011 graduation rate, while St. Paul was second best. The study didn't include 2012 graduation rates, in which Minneapolis recorded a 5 percentage point gain, to 50.1 percent. (Star Tribune)